Meeting with Staffers in the Guam Congressional Office

by Kirby Culbertson
Environmental Studies

While in Guam, we were lucky enough to meet with Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo’s policy advisor, Regine Lee, along with her other advisors Joaquin Perez and Andrew Tenorio. Despite all of the incredibly diverse marine environments we have seen, our meeting with the Congresswoman’s advisors will remain one of my favorite experiences of this trip.

Before meeting at the office of Congresswoman Bordallo, we all read the executive summary of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) commissioned by the United States Navy for the U.S. military buildup already its beginning stages on the island of Guam. Due to numerous issues surrounding Naval stations in Okinawa, the U.S. government has decided to relocate many of the servicemen and infrastructures on Okinawa to Guam. As an Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Public Policy and Management, the summary of the EIS was very interesting to me. Being the final EIS for the project, parties separate from the authors of the EIS have already been given the opportunity to submit comments and opinions about the material included in the EIS. This means that, should this large scale naval buildup occur on Guam, this EIS explains what environmental consequences the U.S. Navy expects from the construction projects, increased population, and other related components of the buildup. After learning how significant the planned changes in Guam’s infrastructure are, we were all eager to talk with government officials who could help us to understand local sentiments and expected outcomes of the project.

Our meeting began with introductions and general discussions about Chamorro and local culture. We then expressed our concerns about the EIS; many of us in the course felt that hugely important possible ramifications of the planned growth on Guam were largely overlooked in the Navy’s EIS. It turns out that almost all policy officials in Guam share the same sentiments. At the Congresswoman’s office, all are painfully aware of how pivotal this undertaking will be, not only for the people of Guam, but also for Guam’s sensitive marine environments.

As a part of what is known as the “Micronesian Challenge,” Micronesian nations and territories have agreed to reach for having 20 percent of aquatic habitats and 30 percent of terrestrial habitats regulated by the year 2020. In the most recent meeting of policy makers, all other Micronesian nations expressed extreme sympathy for Guamanians and all of the obstacles to this goal they have to face in the coming years. The military buildup will make it hard for Guam to achieve the Micronesian Challenge’s goals.

With this buildup, coral reefs of Guam are some of the environments most susceptible to degradation. This is heartbreaking to all of us because all of the diving we have been doing has showed us how breathtakingly beautiful the coral and the life it supports is. In order to carry out this buildup, the Navy would need to dredge out a lot of coral reefs in the main harbor of Abra in order to deepen the channel for more Naval activity. This would kill not only the coral reefs being dredged out, but also the neighboring reefs, as they would be covered by sediment uplifted by the dredging. Our course being focused around ecosystem management in the Indo-Pacific region, learning about this naval buildup on Guam has been central to our understanding and appreciation for the marine habitats of Guam and the regulations put in place to protect them.

Certain aspects of the data contained in the EIS concerned me. One of the studies done by Naval scientists claims that only very few endangered turtles depend on the coral reefs in an area known as the Western Shoals in Abra Harbor. In our one dive there, we saw two turtles and the Department for Fish and Wildlife conducted the same research studies as the Naval scientists and have come to the conclusion that these turtles do indeed rely on the reefs of the Western Shoals. In our meeting at the Congresswoman’s office, the policy advisors also introduced us to a study that was done on the effects of dredging Abra Harbor — raising concerns about radioactive waste from ships decontaminated in Guam following the Bikini tests. There are many more issues that I believe any Environmental Studies major might have with the Navy’s EIS. But, in truth, I do understand both sides of the situation. The current global conditions require increased levels of military and naval defense for the U.S.

It was also very interesting to hear about how local people feel about the buildup. In my personal experience with the local people, there seemed to be a feeling of resignation surrounding the buildup. The naval presence on Guam is already a large aspect of island life and the growth of the Naval presence seems to many unstoppable. Joaquin, one of the policy advisors, explained that there is a divide among the people of Guam on the issue of the buildup. The older generations, who still remember the horrible conditions on Guam during the Japanese occupation before World War II, still have a feeling of indebtedness towards the Americans for having freed them from Japanese concentrations camps on the island. The younger generations, however, feel very passionate about protecting the Guam they know today, and were not around to experience the terrible conditions during the Japanese occupation. As Joaquin put it, “The U.S. has been good to us, no question, but where do we draw the line now? We want to protect our environment.” As with so many environmental issues in the world today — where do we draw the line?

Overall, our meeting with the Congresswoman’s policy advisors was very exciting and informative. We are all so grateful to Regine Lee, Joaquin Perez and Andrew Tenorio for having met with us.

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